American film-making seems to have a problem supporting female film-makers. The difference is stark when compared to, say, France where there are a more films written and directed by females both new and legendary being released. It was an issue flagged up when Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to take the Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker.
Since Bigelow’s landmark win, the paucity of American women directing seems downright insane given the strength of films released this year like Winter’s Bone, Please Give and The Kids are All Right.
Taking place over the course of a summer, this story focuses on the relationship between two middle-aged lesbians, Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) and their two teenage kids, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Joni has just turned eighteen and is old enough to find out who their sperm donor dad is. Prompted by her fifteen year old brother, she contacts Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Soon he is a part of their family which causes chaos as they explore their own identities and roles within the family.
This is an easy film to recommend because Director Lisa Cholodenko has crafted a film with a simple story that allows the characters to blossom and the dialogue, which is both heart-felt and comedic, to impress.
The trailer makes the film out to be a comedy, which is only half true. It is also a moving drama that captures the landscape of the family in general. Never mind the fact that the parents are two middle-aged sexually active lesbians. You forget that and focus on the characters, all of whom are interesting. What emerges, are universal stories: the familiar drift that occurs between a couple and the sense of displacement that teenage years have and the way we try to establish an identity through others.
Like most families, the children take on aspects of their parents – in this case, relating to the mother who gave birth to them. Watching the interplay between them is funny. The conversations feel natural, usually going along the lines of an awkward, “So, uh, how are you?” to bitchy and loaded with subtext sniping.
Oscar talk is surrounding Bening playing the domineering, prickly character, the father of the family. She has the tougher role as the hard-headed, wine-swilling father figure but seeing her character grow is so enjoyable due to the wit and the realness. Equal to her is Ruffalo as an open, sensual slacker awakened to his fear of growing old alone. Wasikowska and Hutcherson are excellent as they respond to his maleness and outsider status whilst rebelling against their parents only to realise that actually, you know, family is actually important.
Actually, seeing all of the characters grow is great. You can picture families like these across the US and you can imagine them working. Thanks to naturalistic acting there is a real chemistry. As a result, it is one of those films where the characters have grown on you and you enjoy their company.
This film displays heart, wit and warmth – and it was shot in just 23 days which puts overly-long epic empty-headed big-bang nonsense like Transformers to shame.
The film works. I believed it and I was immersed in it. It is one of the best films this year and another reason why the lack of women directing should be addressed. Watch it and let the major American studios know that.